Analysis | Published:

Impacts of booming concrete production on water resources worldwide

Nature Sustainabilityvolume 1pages6976 (2018) | Download Citation

Abstract

Concrete is the most-used construction material worldwide. Previous studies on the environmental impacts of concrete production have mainly focused on the materials involved and energy consumption, as well as CO2 emissions; little is known, however, about its water consumption as well as the effective measures to reduce such consumption. We quantify water use of global concrete production in 2012 and project the value to 2050. The results show that concrete production was responsible for 9% of global industrial water withdrawals in 2012 (this is approximately 1.7% of total global water withdrawal). In 2050, 75% of the water demand for concrete production will likely occur in regions that are expected to experience water stress. Among possible ways of mitigating water demand are choosing the appropriate selection of electricity fuel mixes and improved processing of raw materials; however, these strategies may conflict with greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals. This work develops a baseline estimate for water consumption and withdrawal for concrete production and identifies locations for targeted mitigation.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Additional information

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

References

  1. 1.

    Milly, P. C. D., Dunne, K. A. & Vecchia, A. V. Global pattern on trends in streamflow and water availability in a changing climate. Nature 438, 347–350 (2005).

  2. 2.

    Larsen, T. A., Hoffman, S., Lüthi, C., Truffer, B. & Maurer, M. Emerging solutions to water challenges of an urbanizing world. Science 352, 928–933 (2016).

  3. 3.

    AQUASTAT Main Database (FAO, 2016); http://www.fao.org/nr/water/aquastat/data/query/results.html.

  4. 4.

    UN Factsheet on Water Scarcity (UN DESA, 2013).

  5. 5.

    Water Withdrawal by Sector, Around 2007 (AQUASTAT, FAO, 2014).

  6. 6.

    Haddeland, I. et al. Global water resources affected by human interventions and climate change. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 111, 3251–3256 (2014).

  7. 7.

    Kounina, A. et al. Review of methods addressing freshwater use in life cycle inventory and impact assessment. Int. J. Life Cycle Assess. 18, 707–721 (2013).

  8. 8.

    Vorosmarty, C. J. et al. Global threats to human water security and river biodiversity. Nature 467, 555–561 (2010).

  9. 9.

    Doyle, M. W. & Havlick, D. G. Infrastructure and the environment. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resourc. 34, 349–373 (2009).

  10. 10.

    World Population Prospects, the 2015 Revision: Key Findings and Advance Tables (UN DESA, Population Division, 2015).

  11. 11.

    Miller, S. A., Horvath, A. & Monteiro, P. J. M. Readily implementable techniques can cut annual CO2 emissions from the production of concrete by over 20%. Environ. Res. Lett. 11, 074029 (2016).

  12. 12.

    Monteiro, P. J. M., Miller, S. A. & Horvath, A. Towards sustainable concrete. Nat. Mater. 16, 698–699 (2017).

  13. 13.

    Cement Technology Roadmap 2009 (WBCSD, IEA, 2009).

  14. 14.

    Flower, D. M. & Sanjayan, J. Green house gas emissions due to concrete manufacture. Int. J. Life Cycle Assess. 12, 282–288 (2007).

  15. 15.

    Damineli, B. L., Kemeid, F. M., Aguiar, P. S. & John, V. M. Measuring the eco-efficiency of cement use. Cem. Concr. Compos. 32, 555–562 (2010).

  16. 16.

    Schneider, M., Romer, M., Tschudin, M. & Bolio, H. Sustainable cement production—present and future. Cem. Concr. Res. 41, 642–650 (2011).

  17. 17.

    Boesch, M. E. & Hellweg, S. Identifying improvement potentials in cement production with life cycle assessment. Environ. Sci. Technol. 44, 9143–9149 (2010).

  18. 18.

    Gursel, A. P., Maryman, H. & Ostertag, C. A life-cycle approach to environmental, mechanical, and durability properties of “green” concrete mixes with rice husk ash. J. Clean. Prod. 112, 823–836 (2016).

  19. 19.

    Miller, S. A., Monteiro, P. J. M., Ostertag, C. P. & Horvath, A. Comparison indices for design and proportioning of concrete mixtures taking environmental impacts into account. Cem. Concr. Compos. 68, 131–143 (2016).

  20. 20.

    McLellan, B. C., Williams, R. P., Lay, J., van Riessen, A. & Corder, G. D. Costs and carbon emissions for geopolymer pastes in comparison to ordinary portland cement. J. Clean. Prod. 19, 1080–1090 (2011).

  21. 21.

    Liu, G. & Muller, D. Centennial evolution of aluminum in-use stocks on our aluminized planet. Environ. Sci. Technol. 47, 4882–4888 (2013).

  22. 22.

    Reck, B. K., Chambon, M., Hashimoto, S. & Graedel, T. E. Global stainless steel cycle exemplifies Chinas rise to metal dominance. Environ. Sci. Technol. 44, 3940–3946 (2010).

  23. 23.

    Du, X. & Graedel, T. E. Uncovering the global life cycles of rare earth elements. Sci. Rep. 1, 145 (2011).

  24. 24.

    Koehler, A. Water use in LCA: managing the planet’s freshwater resources. Int. J. Life Cycle Assess. 13, 451–455 (2008).

  25. 25.

    AQUASTAT Glossary (FAO, 2016); http://www.fao.org/nr/water/aquastat/data/glossary/search.html.

  26. 26.

    AQUASTAT (FAO, 2016) http://www.fao.org/nr/water/aquastat/water_res/index.stm.

  27. 27.

    Maupin, M. A. et al. Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 2010 (USGS, Reston, 2014).

  28. 28.

    Key World Energy Statistics (International Energy Agency, 2015).

  29. 29.

    Miller, S. A., Horvath, A., Monteiro, P. J. M. & Ostertag, C. P. Greenhouse gas emissions from concrete can be reduced by using mix proportions, geometric aspects, and age as design factors. Environ. Res. Lett. 10, 114017 (2015).

  30. 30.

    Tay, J.-H. & Yip, W.-K. Use of reclaimed wastewater for concrete mixing. J. Envion. Engin. 113, 1156–1161 (1987).

  31. 31.

    Kosmatka, S. H., Kerkhoff, B. & Panarese, W. C. Design and Control of Concrete Mixtures (Portland Cement Association Skokie, 2002).

  32. 32.

    Van den Heede, P. & De Belie, N. Environmental impact and life cycle assessment (LCA) of traditional and ‘green’ concretes: literature review and theoretical calculations. Cem. Concr. Compos. 34, 431–442 (2012).

  33. 33.

    Energy Technology Transitions for Industry (International Energy Agency, 2009)..

  34. 34.

    OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050 (OECD, 2012).

  35. 35.

    Feiz, R. et al. Improving the CO2 performance of cement, part I: utilizing life-cycle assessment and key performance indicators to assess development within the cement industry. J. Clean. Prod. 98, 272–281 (2015).

  36. 36.

    2014 Sustainable Development Report: Building Resilient and Sustainable Urban Communities (CEMEX, 2014).

  37. 37.

    Cao, Z., Shen, L., Lovik, A. N., Muller, D. B. & Liu, G. Elaborating the history of our cementing societies: an in-use stock perspective. Environ. Sci. Technol. 51, 11468–11475 (2017).

  38. 38.

    Fry, A. Water: Facts and Figures (WBCSD, 2006).

  39. 39.

    Cement Sustainability Initiative: Water Impact Management (WBCSD, 2015); https://www.wbcsdcement.org/index.php/en/key-issues/water.

  40. 40.

    Seto, K. E., Churchill, C. J. & Panesar, D. K. Influence of fly ash allocations of the life cycle assessment of cement-based materials. J. Clean. Prod. 157, 65–75 (2017).

  41. 41.

    van Oss, H. G. Minerals Yearbook: Cement 2012 16.11–16.38 (Bureau of Mines, Washington, D.C., 2015).

  42. 42.

    UN Comtrade Database: Cement (Portland, Aluminous, Slag or Hydraulic) (UN Comtrade, 2015); http://comtrade.un.org/data/.

  43. 43.

    Ready-Mixed Concrete Industry Statistics Year 2013 (ERMCO, 2014).

  44. 44.

    Global Cement Database on CO 2 and Energy Information (GNR, 2014); http://www.wbcsdcement.org/GNR-2013/index.html.

  45. 45.

    Gursel, A. P. & Horvath, A. GreenConcrete LCA Webtool (2012); http://greenconcrete.berkeley.edu/concretewebtool.html.

  46. 46.

    IEA Statistics: Electricity Information (International Energy Agency, 2012).

  47. 47.

    Scown, C. D., Horvath, A. & McKone, T. E. Water footprint of U.S. transportation fuels. Environ. Sci. Technol. 45, 2541–2553 (2011).

  48. 48.

    Weidema, B. P. & Wesnæs, M. S. Data quality management for life cycle inventories: an example of using data quality indicators. J. Clean. Prod. 4, 167–174 (1996).

  49. 49.

    Vorosmarty, C. J., Hoekstra, A. Y., Bunn, S. E., Conway, D. & Gupta, J. Fresh water goes global. Science 349, 478–479 (2015).

  50. 50.

    Xi, F. et al. Substantial global carbon uptake by cement carbonation. Nat. Geosci. 9, 880–883 (2016).

Download references

Acknowledgements

S.M. gratefully acknowledges the support of the University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship programme. This work represents the views of the authors, not necessarily the view of the sponsor. J. D. Herman, K. Ziotopoulou and F. C. Moore are thanked for their help.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Davis, Davis, CA, USA

    • Sabbie A. Miller
  2. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, USA

    • Arpad Horvath
    •  & Paulo J. M. Monteiro

Authors

  1. Search for Sabbie A. Miller in:

  2. Search for Arpad Horvath in:

  3. Search for Paulo J. M. Monteiro in:

Contributions

S.M. and A.H. developed the methodological approach. S.M. collected the data and evaluated the results. S.M., A.H. and P.M. wrote the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sabbie A. Miller.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Methods, Supplementary References, Supplementary Figs. 1–12, Supplementary Tables 1–37

  2. Supplementary Data Set

    Data on cement consumption and electricity by fuel type for different countries; and water consumption and withdrawal for production of electricity by fuel source.

About this article

Publication history

Received

Accepted

Published

Issue Date

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-017-0009-5

Further reading